- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 23, 2002

Calvin McCarter, a 10-year-old schooled at home in a "reformed Christian" style, correctly identified China as home to the Lop Nor nuclear test site yesterday to become the youngest winner of the National Geographic Bee.
The fifth-grader beat out nine older contestants, most in their teens, to win a $25,000 college scholarship he won't need for years to come. In second place was Matthew Russell, 14, a public-school student from Pennsylvania. Home-schooler Erik Miller, 14, of Washington state finished third.
Four home-schoolers were among the top 10 finishers at yesterday's hourlong contest hosted by Alex Trebek, star of the TV game show "Jeopardy." A record 12 of the 55 finalists this year, including Timothy Mackie of College Park, were schooled at home.
Advocates of home schooling say this is a "tangible sign" of its potential.
"We think this is just another example of how home-schooling prepares young men and women for a variety of academic, professional and social pursuits in life," said J. Michael Smith, president of the Home School Legal Defense Association, based in Purcellville, Va.
Calvin, almost too small to lift the oversized check he was presented, was a first-timer among several veteran contestants. He said he preferred schooling at home "because it is easier to keep up with the things you really want to learn."
"In public schools, classrooms are big and teachers can't make children listen," said the bespectacled boy from Jenison, Mich., whose brother inspired his interest in geography.
Calvin's parents decided to home-school their two sons "because we wanted to provide them with a distinctively reformed Christian education, which they would not get outside," said his father, Joseph Parnell McCarter.
Mr. McCarter, an accountant who was teaching his children the Bible, said Calvin won "because God wanted him to win."
Calvin's mother, Charlotte McCarter, described him as a regular child who loved climbing the red maple in their back yard, collecting stamps and playing soccer. She said her son was "very focused."
"He gives up things to reach his goals. He could have chosen to play indoor soccer during the winter, but he gave it up so he could study for the bee," she said.
Ellen Siskind, a spokeswoman for contest organizer National Geographic, said the home-schoolers had done "an obviously good job." Organizers estimated that 5 million children had participated in statewide and local contests leading up to the finals.
"The fact that [home-schoolers] parents tailor the curriculum to their needs would give them an advantage," Mrs. Siskind said.
Moments after the contest, Matthew Russell, who finished second, said the results "still haven't sunk in."
The public-school student from Bradford, Pa., said he had worked hard to reach the finals. "I would study everything I could get my hands on," said Matthew, who has won two state chess championships.
Third-place winner Erik Miller's mother was so nervous that she did not accompany him to the finals in the District. Instead, Erik's aunt drove from Winston-Salem, N.C., to cheer him on.
Erik said his parents pulled him out of elementary school "because I didn't fit in with the other children and the method of education."
"They felt home-schooling would be more appropriate for the way I learn," he said, saying he kept his cool during the contest "by just trying to squish all emotion down, stay calm and listen."
The eighth-grader from Kent, Wash., says he loves playing the violin and piano, and enjoys soccer and track. But if there is one person in the world he could be, he said, it is movie star Keanu Reeves. "There are not too many honest, famous people around," he said.


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